Tony Snow admits it: the White House just didn’t see the defeat of Shamnesty coming.

“I freely admit that we underestimated the (public) skepticism,” Snow said over breakfast with a group of reporters on his final day on the job.

Snow said that the White House was not prepared for the anger of foes of illegal immigration, who believed that government at all levels had failed to secure the nation’s borders. While the public backlash is aimed “not merely (at) the Bush administration,” he conceded that the White House “made some miscalculations, as well.”

They may be listening to us a bit. Snow’s making sense about securing the border and restoring confidence in the rule of law:

Calling America “a nation of immigrants,” he said Congress and the president needed to come up with a plan to deal with the about 12 million people who are illegally in the country today. “A lot of these people really are pursuing the traditional path to the American dream,” he said.

To win political support for comprehensive legislation, Snow said the government needed to re-establish “the credibility of the rule of law” by protecting the border and requiring illegal immigrants to pay substantial penalties — “not just a wrist slap, but something significant” — before taking their place “at the back of the line” to citizenship.

I always expected this was the deal that would ultimately be struck–a fence in exchange for an amnesty and vastly increased legal immigration quotas.

Snow has done his job well, but I’ve got to wonder about how he really feels about this issue. IIRC, he had criticized the Bush adminstration’s immigration policy before he was chosen as White House Spokesman. Then this year, he got stuck smearing lipstick on the shamnesty-bill pig. Has he really changed his view on the topic, or if he was up there gritting his teeth and crossing his fingers every day?

Well, he may unburden himself very soon. For now, (interestingly) he’s keeping quiet about the other candidates’ attacks on the President’s immigration policy:

Asked what he thought of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates’ repeated attacks on President Bush’s immigration record, Snow uncharacteristically demurred.

“Ask me that question in a week — or even tomorrow,” he said. “As the president’s press secretary, I’m not going to step into that one.”

Update (AP): Mortman, you magnificent bastard.